The COVID-19 pandemic has made some people, mostly environmentalists, dream about a world without fossil fuels. The environmentalists have celebrated the reduced CO2 emissions due to the economic lockdowns. Shuttered businesses use little energy, and fuel consumption for transportation has plummeted, as most people don’t commute to work or travel for business or otherwise.
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has argued that this should be the new normal, and we should give up all fossil fuel use as soon possible. This has been echoed by the Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May who claimed that “oil is dead” and we should now use renewable energy only (while also rejecting nuclear power).
But this dream is utterly premature. Despite the ardent hope of the environmentalists to rid the world of coal, oil and natural gas as sources of energy, we will need them for them for a long time to live and prosper.
According to the International Energy Agency, the fossil fuels currently provide about 80% of the world’s energy needs. Oil and natural gas alone account for close to 60% our energy consumption. The remainder comes from nuclear, hydro, and other renewables, such as biofuels, solar, wind, and geothermal sources. The IEA’s latest projections, up until 2040, show significant growth in demand for both natural gas and oil as the world’s population continues to grow and its standard of living increases and poverty diminishes.
Oil and natural gas are not only sources of energy but also raw materials for petrochemicals that are used for countless products on which our lives and flourishing depend. During the current pandemic, the demand for plastics and other derivatives of petrochemicals has exploded. Plastics are needed for medical devices (such as test kits), for food packaging (to protect from contamination), and for personal protective equipment (masks and gloves). Isopropyl alcohol, another petrochemical product, is used to make hand-sanitizers.
Pandemic or not, the dream of abandoning fossil fuels is just a dream—a suicidal one. Sustaining life and flourishing requires energy that is reliable, abundant and affordable. Given the current state of technology, only fossil fuels meet those requirements. Of the renewables, nuclear power qualifies but it is also opposed by most environmentalists, and its applications are more limited than those of the fossil fuels.
The other renewables, solar, wind, and biomass and biofuels, have been exposed completely dependent the fossil fuels, in the recent movie “Planet of The Humans” directed by Jeffrey Gibbs and sponsored by Michael Moore. The movie also exposed hypocrite businesses that try to appease their critics by claiming to use only renewable (non-nuclear) energy, such as Apple, or to produce “clean” products (for example, electric vehicles), such as Tesla.
Other appeasers who have either succumbed to the fossil-fuel-free dream or are just pragmatically appeasing their critics are various self-labeled “ethical” or “sustainable” investment funds (such as Blackrock) who have divested oil and gas and coal stocks as well as banks (such as HSBC).
Fortunately, there are other businesses that reject suicidal dreams and focus on reality instead. Earlier this month, three quarters of the shareholders of the U.K.-based Barclays PLC bank rejected the proposal by an activist group Share Action to divest Canadian oil stocks, the oil sands stocks in particular. Share Action argued that “the tarsands have no place in a Paris-compliant world.”
Barclays’ shareholders rejected Share Action’s proposal because of the the anti-human standard by which this particular activist group and other environmentalist groups operate: a pristine planet with no human impact. This standard was abundantly manifested in “The Planet of The Humans.” Despite brilliantly exposing the hypocrisy of the renewable energy industry and its supporters, the movie’s conclusion was that humans are a scourge on the planet and the only solution is to use force (such as forcible sterilization) and seriously curtail our freedom to save it.
In contrast, the standard by which Barclay’s shareholders opted to continue their investment in oil and gas is pro-human. It rests on the recognition that human survival and flourishing require affordable, plentiful, and reliable energy as well as raw materials for products that sustain our lives.
Only by investing in such energy and raw materials, can we make the planet safe and livable in the long term, while continuing to develop innovations and technologies that minimize negative side effects (such as pollution and waste) of fossil fuels.
Once the economic lockdowns end (when we challenge governments’ violations of our liberty) and the pandemic is over (due to a discovery of a vaccine or antivirals), the demand for fossil fuels will increase again and benefit Barclays’ shareholders and the rest of us.